The Efficient Mac User

Apple Hopes for 2009

- 2008.12.24 - Tip Jar

Follow Ed Eubanks Jr on Twitter.

Well, it's time for the annual recap of my wishes for the past year, and a declaration of what I hope to see from Apple and others in the coming year.

Let's recap what I said for 2007:

  • Apple TV improvements: I asked for direct access to content. (Check.) HD movies. (Check.) And more robust tools for accessing the 'Net - Facebook, iChat, keyboard control. (Okay, so two out of three isn't bad.)
  • Video subscriptions through iTunes: I suggested a Netflix-style subscription service for videos instead of rentals. Apple brought video rentals instead - but the gist of what I asked for is still there: You can rent movies instead of buying them, which is all I really wanted. (I'll call this a half-check.)
  • Task management for iPhone: I said last year that one of the (non-monetary) things keeping me from buying an iPhone was the lack of task management tools available. Boy, is this one a check - and a big one. There are now dozens of task management tools available for iPhone, through the App Store - as well as literally thousands of other applications, making the iPhone one of the most versatile and productivity-enhancing tools available. And, yes, I did buy an iPhone this year.
  • Updates for staple applications: Last year I asked for updates for a few key applications: DevonThink (still not yet), Ecto (check, though I've since moved to MarsEdit), and OmniFocus (check).
  • A true "MacBook Mini": I asked for a small subnotebook that ran a full version of OS X, with a flash-memory hard drive and an LED display. It would have a full-sized, backlit keyboard, be multitouch capable, and have tablet features as well (I mentioned that I thought the tablet part was optional). It would be ultra-lightweight, have impressive specs for processing, and Bluetooth, AirPort Extreme, USB, and a mini-DVI port. From the looks of things, I'd call this a "check" big-time with the MacBook Air, which basically meets all of my specs except for the screen size, but the lightness and convenience of the Air more than make up for that.

I thought my list was fairly bold, and I frankly didn't expect to see everything I listed realized as much as they were. Overall, I'll give myself four out of five for last year, since I was only half-right on a couple of them.

My Hopes for '09

What am I looking for going into 2009? I'm going to get very specific and technical about a few things. Here's my list:

Snow Leopard

I know I'm cheating a little bit, since Apple has already promised this in 2009 (and evidence even suggests that it will come in the first quarter of 2009). But Snow Leopard is a big deal to Intel Mac users, since it will bring broad-scale efficiency improvements to the system.

If you don't know yet, Snow Leopard is the "next version" of Mac OS X - the successor to Leopard. But as the name implies, it will be more like Leopard than it will be different. Rather than building in a bunch of new features, tools, or visual improvements, Snow Leopard will focus on what is under the hood: It should make your Mac faster, require less memory and processor power (and therefore less battery power), and take up less space on your hard drive. It should also bring a few tools and features that, again, will mostly be "under the hood" things - better systemwide support for Microsoft Exchange, for example, as well as better use of 64-bit and multicore technologies, improved media support, and even putting graphics processors to better use.

I want Snow Leopard, but I join a number of commentators who have suggested that considering Snow Leopard a "full" upgrade - and thereby charging the usual $129 for it - would be an injustice. Therefore, I'm calling for Snow Leopard for a reasonable upgrade fee - maybe $29.95, and certainly less than $50.

Oh, and as a bonus: Put Snow Leopard on the iPhone during 2009 as iPhone firmware v3.0. Apply the same principles: smaller footprint, better use of resources, and better use of cores and graphics processors. I'd love to see first-gen iPhones running faster and gaining back half a gig of memory space because of good use of Snow Leopard.

DevonThink 2.0

I'm cheating a little bit on this one too, since I recently received a press release announcing the forthcoming public beta of version 2.0 of DevonThink, which is one of my favorite applications for the Mac and one of the most versatile and important tools that I use.

To be fair, though, I don't consider this a total cheat, since talk has been coming from Devon Technologies about v2.0 since at least 2006 - and it has always had the air of, "we're only months away from releasing it." To read some of the comments on their forums, it is clear that many users are quite frustrated about the progress - or lack thereof - when it comes to the release of DT 2.0. Getting a press release about it makes me think it is really going to happen, and even soon; I want to be optimistic about this, but the pace at which Devon Technologies has moved on this makes me cautious.

Still, the promised features make it worth waiting for, including the ability to have multiple databases open at once; better integration of Spotlight, QuickLook, and other Leopard tools; an improved system for storing files in a more open manner; Boolean operators for searching; file linking, annotation, etc.; and strong improvement on importing files. I'm excited about this release and truly believe that it will really happen.

Stronger Time Machine Support through AirPort

Time Machine is pretty great. It's not user-customizeable enough, and that leaves some people complaining. Those people, though, are in that small percentage of folks who already backed up their computers regularly. The rest of the computing world is marveling at the fact that they don't have to do anything - er, well, not very much at least - to keep their data safely backed up.

Still, there are a few quirks about using Time Machine. Apple's Time Capsule, which is a combination of the AirPort Extreme Base Station with a high-capacity server-grade hard drive, is a great tool for backing up. But the AirPort Extreme Base Station already has the ability to connect an external drive through USB and make it a network-shared disk.

This capability, plus the promise of the forthcoming Time Machine, was one of the early marketing snippets proffered in favor of the updated AirPort Extreme Base Station. Yet when Time Machine debuted with Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard", support for this feature was notably absent - something that folks on the Web made quite a stir about.

Furthermore, Time Machine via AirPort is generally buggy. While you can set up Time Machine to back up to a drive attached to another Mac, getting it to work is inconsistent, at best. For example, I have a 1 TB external drive attached to our family iMac, and it is shared through our network. My wife and I have both of our laptops set to backup to that disk via Time Machine - which is, allegedly, completely supported and kosher. However, depending on which "x" we are on in Mac OS X 10.5.x, this setup has either worked flawlessly or not at all.

I want to see Apple address this issue thoroughly. A firmware update for the AirPort Extreme Base Station would make it possible to back up to any shared disk via Time Machine; we know this is true, because a firmware update in the recent past actually enabled that ability - before Apple disavowed the practice as unsupported and declared that doing so would not yield a useable backup. And an incremental update to Mac OS X 10.5.x could, and should, rectify any attempt to backup through a network for good.

This fix should not be simply a part of Snow Leopard - because we all know that Snow Leopard will be only for Intel Macs, and Macs that are otherwise Leopard- and Time Machine-capable shouldn't be punished for the fact that Macs last a long time.

TV Rentals through iTunes

Apple came through with movies through iTunes - rentals, including HD rentals, are now widely available, and the number is growing all the time. By this time in 2009, I expect that just about any recent movie - from the last 20 years, maybe? - that you would want to watch will be available through iTunes for sale or rent, to be played on a Mac, iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV.

Apple now needs to turn its attention to TV shows. Don't get me wrong: They've done a very good job with this angle so far. It's great to be able to catch an episode I missed or find a series I'd always wanted to check out and give it a try. And while I haven't plunked down the cash for a season pass yet, I've found the per-episode fees small enough to stomach.

Still, there's a pile of money to be made, for both Apple and the studios, in TV rentals. Netflix, again, has offered pioneering evidence of this: My wife and I have watched a couple of entire seasons of shows through our Netflix membership. We usually don't care that we can't go back and watch individual episodes again - and if we want to, we can always rent them again.

Even more than with movies, there are very few TV shows that I care about owning. In fact, if I had The West Wing and Seinfeld on DVD, I probably wouldn't feel compelled to buy another show out of desire to own it. (I've never watched Lost, but some friends have suggested it would win a place alongside the other two.) So I'm less likely to spend money easily on buying TV episodes or seasons, even if Apple has made it easy to do so.

But give me the option to rent them - say, at 99¢ each, or maybe even 79¢ - and I'd rent them frequently. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on this one. Better still, offer a "season pass rental" at $15 - you watch it once (or as much as you want over a 24-hour period), and it disappears, in much the same way as the movie rentals do. At that rate, it could cause a lot of folks to rethink their subscription fees for TiVo - and even for cable or satellite.

Combine this to the already-in-place package, and this could be the thing that moves the Apple TV out of "hobby" category and makes it serious business.

Unlocked iPhones

Now that iPhone is the #1 handset in the United States - and the #1 smartphone in the US - it makes sense that more and more people will want one. This is classic marketing momentum. And the biggest reason/complaint/excuse for not getting an iPhone that I've heard, both in person and online, is that it is locked into a network that a lot of people dislike: AT&T.

Now, I've mentioned before that I'm comfortable being an AT&T user, and we've been relatively satisfied customers for the couple of years we've been with them. When I got my iPhone, I didn't bat an eye about signing a two-year contract. So this wish-list item isn't personal.

But my mother and my sister are both committed to other networks, even though they want iPhones. Some colleagues are in the same boat. So while I don't have a personal beef against AT&T, I do want the freedom (for others and myself) to choose networks. I think that's what is best for the service industry, as well.

Here's what I think: June 2009 marks two years from the very first mandatory two-year contracts for the iPhone. At that point, there will be many hundreds, if not thousands, of users who will readily jump ship from AT&T, legally and without any right of complaint from Apple or AT&T. Remember, there were millions of iPhones sold in the first months that it was available, so this number could potentially be huge. (Personally, I think a lot of users won't go to the trouble to change - AT&T has been good enough, they'll think, and it is a hassle to switch networks.) Moreover, a lot of folks will sell their first-gen iPhones - now legally unlocked - and upgrade, flooding the used market with unlocked iPhones to move to other networks.

However many the number of the exodus, Apple will not be willing to lose a significant amount of money to the used market and will undercut this by making new unlocked iPhones available for the first time in the US. I'd guess there will be iPhones of the most recent vintage (perhaps iPhone 3.0?) for sale at the same prices - or less - as they are today. I'd further guess that AT&T's desperation to continue to grab iPhone business will cause them to subsidize the costs, and we'll have the first-ever iPhones available at standard configurations for less than $100. Perhaps as a reward to AT&T for being a good partner for the first two years (and out of spite for the networks that were offered the iPhone and turned it down), Apple will allow only AT&T to subsidize thusly, thereby continuing to favor AT&T over the other networks.

I'm so certain of this that I'll go even further in my predictions: June 25. Mark your calendars. You heard it here first. LEM

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